LIVERMORE — A new group called Save Downtown Livermore has worked with lawyers, an architect and an appraiser to form what its members believe is a viable alternative to the downtown Eden Housing development plan.
The group aims to see the 130 housing units currently proposed for the downtown location, known as the Lucky site, moved across Railroad Avenue to the parcels just north of it.
Save Downtown Livermore stated that the Livermore City Council’s Dec. 7 workshop unveiled design plans for the area — bound by L Street, Railroad Avenue, Livermore Avenue and Veterans Way — that were “drastically different” from those the public had been shown since 2018.
“These changes will dramatically increase the affordable housing footprint in our city center, significantly reduce open space between the buildings, and provide inadequate parking that fails to meet city standards,” stated the press release submitted by Ruth Gasten, Save Downtown Livermore spokesperson. “These changes are unacceptable, and are a serious deviation from the plan proposed and advertised repeatedly by the City of Livermore ... Our mission is to reverse these changes and recommend a superior alternative that calls for a park rather than affordable housing in our city center, while providing more affordable housing nearby.”
The group notes that because Eden Housing will present its revised plan for approval to the Livermore Planning Commission in January and to the City Council in February, there is only a short time to make the community “aware of the harm that it will cause.”
Changes to Eden Housing’s Plan
Save Downtown Livermore reported working with a private architect, who determined by analyzing the design plans that the housing footprint is roughly 42% larger, reducing the park size.
“The park between the 4-story building (79 units) on the north side and the 3-story buildings (51 units) on the south side has been reduced by an estimated 32%,” the group wrote. “The buildings run from the edge of L Street on the west to the extension of K Street on the east. The narrower space between the massive structures would be seen as serving the private apartment renters rather than the public.”
Save Downtown Livermore said that they were concerned about the hard surfaced open space, substandard parking, and the “loss of workforce housing.”
“All of the units in the current Eden Housing plan involve low income, very low income and homeless housing, not the workforce housing that was promised,” the release continued.
A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report states that, “workforce housing is most commonly intended for households with incomes between 80 and 120% of Area Median Income (AMI).” According to the Alameda County Eden Housing A1 report and an Eden Housing staff member, none of the occupants of the Eden Housing units will be eligible if they fall into the 80% to 120% category. Only homeless up to 20% AMI, very low income up to 50% AMI and low income up to 60% AMI will qualify.
The Group’s Proposed Alternative
Save Downtown Livermore states that after extensive research, they have found that options for retaining Eden Housing’s $14.4 million loan, meeting tight deadlines and procuring revenue to purchase land north of Railroad Avenue are encouraging. As a result, they state, an increase in affordable housing and a community park would be possible.
In January, 2020, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors authorized a $14.4 million loan to Eden Housing to fund the planned 130 unit project on the Lucky site.
When asked whether Eden Housing could keep its loan if the project moves across the street, an Alameda County staff member emailed on Jan. 29, 2020, “If the result of changes were higher scores on ranking criteria and a larger number of affordable units, it is likely that the funds could remain with the project … ”
Save Downtown Livermore said they have learned that all but one of the six parcels needed for the new project area are “either for sale, have been involved in informal sale discussions, have no buildings on them, or are owned by the city.” They noted that this is good news, since a relatively fast acquisition of them is important.
According to Save Downtown Livermore, 194 units could be placed on the six parcels at a density of 62.4 units to the acre, less than the 63 units to the acre standard provided them by a city representative. The underground parking provided would meet the city’s 1 unit to 1.1 parking stall requirement.
“Adding an appraiser’s preliminary land costs to demolition and tenant relocation expense estimates from others provides a total cost of $8.6 million,” the release stated. “If Eden Housing relocated 130 units north of Railroad Avenue as part of a194 unit project, it could be responsible for 67% of the cost of the land and related costs, or $5.8 million. A city staff member has said that the current uncommitted Livermore Affordable Housing Fees Fund totals $6 to $7 million.”
Turning to Another Government Agency
“For a number of years, the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) has openly expressed interest in providing affordable teacher and staff housing in Livermore to retain its strong workforce,” the release continued. “It has discussed a number of available options. One involves acquiring land for teacher housing with funds secured from the disposal of LVJUSD property that is no longer needed.
“If this option were followed, the door could be open to participation in the Eden Housing project. For instance, proceeds from the disposal of the surplus land could pay for 33% of the land and related costs of the new site, providing space for 64 units. School district representatives have said that they are interested in pursuing the opportunity; a public LVJUSD discussion could be held in the near future.”
Save Downtown Livermore adds that LVJUSD’s funding of at least 64 teacher and staff housing units would fulfill any remaining Jan. 29, 2009 CalHFA Residential Development Loan Program (RDLP) requirement associated with the Lucky site.
“That was the understanding of those meeting in 2018 with one who had access to city data,” the group stated. “However, past and current research conducted by several attorneys engaged by community groups shows that even 64 units may not be needed to comply with the RDLP requirement.”
Relocation of Eden Housing Units
According to the Notice of Affordability Restriction recorded in January 2009 in connection with the CalHFA RDLP loan, “Owner may propose a change of use only in the event that the Property is no longer needed for the purpose specified in this Notice & Declaration and the Property will be used to benefit individuals or families whose incomes do not exceed 120 percent of median income for the area.”
Save Downtown Livermore states that because Eden Housing will develop more units on a larger area, the Lucky site would no longer be needed for housing.
“The tenants of the affordable housing across the street would benefit from a unique park, which they could use for their recreation,” the release continued.
Save Downtown Livermore concludes, “The community must ask Eden Housing to study seriously the alternative option, and leave behind the plan that would damage the character of our downtown. The site north of Railroad Avenue would provide a greater number of affordable units, much-needed teacher housing and a creative park — a triple win that would draw our community together.”
Matt Graves, Eden Housing project developer, was unable to return requests for comment by press time.
Members of the organization can be reached at SaveDowntownLivermore@gmail.com.